Thanksgiving is in two days. In an ordinary year, millions of Americans would be traveling to attend family gatherings. This year, with coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths reaching new peaks, health officials have been telling people to stay home. But airline travel has seen surges not seen in months. Airports are filled with holiday travelers, often without masks, and seldom distant from one another.
Why are so many people ignoring what is clearly wise advice? Admittedly, I have not gone to the airport to interview airline partons, but I can offer a theory. (I’m staying home and keeping away from others, of course, so I’m not going to the airport.)
The most obvious explanation is that people are idiots. Either they are fed up with restrictions or they have considered the pandemic overhyped all along. Let me offer a less gloomy explanation.
Most people crowding the airports have likely heard the pleas to stay at home. Their logic for getting on an airplane may have gone something like this: Because medical experts are telling people to stay home, few people will be traveling. That means that airports and airplanes will not be crowded, and travel will be relatively safe. Unfortunately, if lots of people reason this way, their logic becomes self-defeating.
This phenomenon is akin to bank runs. If there is concern that a bank is unsound, an individual, protecting his or her assets, will go to the bank and withdraw whatever funds are on deposit. If one person does this, the action is innocuous. If hundreds or thousands of people do this, the situation becomes a crisis.
Alas, we have become a country in which many people are concerned only with themselves, ignoring the common good and whether their actions may have unintended consequences.